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20 years as a bishop on Dec. 12 — ‘I love the bishop’s ministry’ — says Bishop Malooly

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Bishop Malooly celebrates Mass at St. Joseph's Church, Sunday, Nov. 15. Dialog photo/Don Blake

WILMINGTON — Bishop Malooly may be nearing the end of his tenure as the ordinary in the Diocese of Wilmington, but the delay in getting a replacement means he will still actively be leading the diocese as he marks 20 years since receiving word that he was going to be a bishop.

Bishop Malooly was 56 and the vicar general and moderator of the curia in the Archdiocese of Baltimore when he received word from his longtime boss, Cardinal William Keeler, that he was going to be an auxiliary in Baltimore. It was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, 2000.

Bishop Malooly and Msgr. Steven P. Hurley await a papal audience in Rome in December 2019.

“Everything happened back then 20 years ago on Tuesdays. The cardinal got the call on Tuesday the fifth, and I had to respond to the nuncio that I would accept. It was announced the following Tuesday,” Bishop Malooly said.

Cardinal Keeler was in Bishop Malooly’s office on Dec. 5, 2000, when his secretary told him the papal nuncio was on the phone. Bishop Malooly said another prelate, Auxiliary Bishop P. Francis Murphy, had died in September 1999, and he believed the archdiocese was due to receive another auxiliary.

“I had assumed that I would not be the one because he had no one to become the vicar general and the moderator,” Bishop Malooly said. “He could take a parish priest and make him the area bishop. I just assumed that I wasn’t the one. Other guys weren’t surprised, but I was.

“It was a nice surprise.”

The ordination took place in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore on March 1, 2001. Cardinal Keeler was the ordaining prelate. The church was full of family and friends. Since he had worked in the chancery for so long, many employees of the archdiocese were there, as were people he had met at his two parish assignments earlier in his ministry. He was assigned the vicar for the six westernmost counties in the archdiocese while retaining his positions as vicar general and moderator of the curia.

One of the people inside the cathedral that day was the bishop’s mother, Rosemary Murphy Malooly. Her brother, Bishop T. Austin Murphy, was an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and had ordained Bishop Malooly to the diaconate and the priesthood in 1970.

Bishop Malooly greets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Dec. 3, 2019.

“When I called her the night before, she wasn’t surprised,” the bishop said. “Now, when Austin became a bishop, that was a surprise because he had just been named pastor two or three months earlier. He was 51, so he was fairly young. He had never done chancery work. He only had been a parish priest, which is the most important part, obviously.”

The bishop said that his youngest brother was an altar server at Mass the morning their uncle was named a bishop. Since Bishop Malooly was in the seminary at the time, his brother was sent home to tell their mother about Austin Murphy’s appointment.

Coming to the Diocese of Wilmington was a bit of a change for Bishop Malooly. In Baltimore, he was one of several auxiliaries, but in Delaware he was it. He arrived in the middle of a bankruptcy caused by the clergy sex-abuse crisis.

“This has been, how can I say it, a challenging assignment. It’s been a long ride, but I wouldn’t trade it in,” he said.

There have been many positives along the way, he said. “I love the bishop’s ministry, from confirmation, and Lou (De Angelo, superintendent of schools) and I do school visits. This is the first year we haven’t done it. It’s just too much of a circus if I go in (because of coronavirus restrictions). I do miss the confirmations.”

The bishop expects a replacement to be named in the spring of 2021, and he will be happy to step aside to let his successor do his thing. Nothing hangs on the walls of his office in the chancery building as it has been readied for the next prelate.

“He’ll be responsible for everything. If he wants me to help with confirmations, I’ll be glad to do that. I’ll help at parishes on weekends if they need help,” he said.

“It’s been a good ride. All 50 years as a clergyman have been good. No regrets.”